Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Trump administration seized phone and email records of CNN reporter Barbara Starr, and the sleazy story has ties to Alabama, via the "evil elf," Jeff Sessions

Barbara Starr, of CNN


Attacks on a free press are not quite as common as police beatings in postmodern America -- at least not yet. But the score seems to be getting tighter. The latest example came with news that the Trump administration used the Department of Justice to secretly obtain the phone and email records of a reporter from CNN. To add even more intrigue to the situation, it has a potential Alabama connection.

That catches this blogger's undivided attention, given that I have been a target of what Montgomery lawyer and author Tommy Gallion calls the "Alabama cabal." Recent state history suggests the cabal has many ways to accomplish its dirty work -- as Don Siegelman and Richard Scrushy surely know -- and sources tell us one way is through control of the Alabama State Bar and the state's compromised judiciary.

So how did Team Trump, once again show its contempt for the basics of democracy -- this time, the First Amendment. CNN explains:

The Trump administration secretly sought and obtained the 2017 phone and email records of a CNN correspondent, the latest instance where federal prosecutors have taken aggressive steps targeting journalists in leak investigations.

The Justice Department informed CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr, in a May 13 letter, that prosecutors had obtained her phone and email records covering two months, between June 1, 2017 to July 31, 2017. The letter listed phone numbers for Starr's Pentagon extension, the CNN Pentagon booth phone number and her home and cell phones, as well as Starr's work and personal email accounts. . . . 

The seizure of Starr's records is the third disclosure in as many weeks where the Trump administration used its Justice Department to secretly obtain communications of journalists or to expose the identity of critics of former President Donald Trump's allies.
"CNN strongly condemns the secret collection of any aspect of a journalist's correspondence, which is clearly protected by the First Amendment," said CNN President Jeff Zucker. "We are asking for an immediate meeting with the Justice Department for an explanation."
The Obama administration also came under criticism for its heavy-handed tactics toward leak investigations involving journalists. But the Trump administration aggressively pursued leak investigations as the former President frequently railed against the leaks coming out of the government. The latest disclosures appear to show the Justice Department targeting news organizations and social media companies particularly loathed by the former President.

Starr apparently was not a target of an investigation -- but her sources were, and that can have a chilling effect on a reporter's ability to report. As for that possible Alabama connection, we have this:

It is unclear when the investigation was opened, whether it happened under Attorney General Jeff Sessions or Attorney General William Barr, and what the Trump administration was looking for in Starr's records. The Justice Department confirmed the records were sought through the courts last year but provided no further explanation or context.

Here is more background from the Guardian:

Two weeks ago, the Washington Post revealed that Trump’s justice department had similarly obtained the call records of three Washington Post journalists who worked on a July 2017 story about the FBI’s investigation of Russia. In 2018, the New York Times reporter Ali Watkins, who covered the federal leak investigation of aide James A Wolfe, was notified by government officials that her email and phone records had also been seized. In all cases, content of the phone calls and emails made was not obtained.

“This is a big story that just got bigger,” said Bruce Brown, the executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, in a statement. “That a journalist from another news organization had communications records seized by the Trump justice department suggests that the last administration’s efforts to intrude into reporter-source relationships and chill news gathering is more sweeping than we originally thought.”

During Trump’s tenure, the justice department notoriously attempted to come down hard on supposed leaks. Jeff Sessions, the first attorney general to serve under Trump, announced robust efforts to prosecute government employees who were disclosing sensitive information to journalists, publicly confirming that the justice department had more than tripled the number of leak investigations compared to the Obama administration.

Why does it matter that Jeff Sessions -- a former U.S. senator from Alabama and once the state's attorney general -- has an apparent affinity for attacks on a free press? Well, it matters to me because I have firsthand  experience with such attacks, having been beaten and abducted from my own home in Birmingham and tossed in jail for five months for daring to report at this blog on government corruption in Alabama and beyond..

Multiple sources tell Legal Schnauzer that Sessions and his allies -- Rob Riley, Luther Strange, Doug Jones, and Steve Windom -- have extraordinary influence with the Alabama State Bar. I have reported critically on all of those individuals, except Windom, so is it any wonder I have documented evidence of the Alabama State Bar trying to deny my right (and Mrs. Schnauzer's right) to an attorney in a civil matter involving my unlawful imprisonment? Not to me. Is it possible such skulduggery, which could qualify as obstruction of justice, wire fraud, and perhaps other crimes under federal law, still is going on? That would not surprise me one bit.

Here is something else that would not surprise me: If it turns out that Jeff Sessions brought up the idea of attacking the press to the Trump white House. If so, I'm sure the idea fell on receptive ears.


legalschnauzer said...

Jeff Sessions certainly is evil, but so is Bill Barr, so that race might be too close to call. Either one could have signed off on this.

Anonymous said...

Barbara Starr's job probably just go a whole lot harder.

Anonymous said...

Why did the DOJ notify Ms. Starr of its activities? Doesn't that defeat the purpose?

legalschnauzer said...

Maybe they are required by law to notify her, after the fact, but I don't know. Doesn't seem to accomplish much, once the deed is done.

Anonymous said...

Disappointed to learn the Obama admin pulled this kind of stuff, too.

Jim Beamer said...

The fed wiretap statute suggests that Judges have wide descretion to inform people that a warrant was used to seek info. Usually, in a criminal case, the notice comes after Discovery is ordered. In her case, she wasn't a target (as a reporter you're not supposed to be considered a criminal for engaging in journalism) so...the Judge decided to give her notice.

If you read the state and fed eavesdropping statutes, the language gives whiggle room for Judges. There is no penalty for not complying with the notice requirement by a Judge. The language is versed with, "...within a reasonable period of time...".

So...what does that mean? Like alot of Judicial restraints or requirements...it means "whatever the Judge thinks is reasonable" including "no notice at anytime"...ever. What can you do about that? You don't have notice that you weren't given notice, so how will you prove you have standing as a party in interest?

legalschnauzer said...

Thanks for your insights. Very helpful.